Screening Process

UCSF Medical Center

UCSF Medical Center (Photo credit: frankfarm)

I got my free Oral Cancer/Head and Neck Cancer screening this morning!

Last year I could not find a place where free Oral Cancer screenings were being done in honor of Oral Cancer Awareness Month.  So this year I vigilantly scoured facebook and read every vaguely relevant post about events for free screenings.  Earlier this week I found this link:

http://www.headandneck.org/site/c.8hKNI0MEImI4E/b.6297931/k.686E/List_of_Screening_Sites/apps/kb/cs/contactsearch.asp?submit=submit

…and I discovered that UCSF Medical Center-Head and Neck Surgery Dept. was giving free screenings!  I called a couple of times to confirm they were indeed doing this, because I was not about to show up on their doorstep only to be turned away.  I don’t live in SF and it’s kind of an ordeal to get in and out of the city from where I live.  No matter how I choose to travel (car or public transit) I have to do some major planning.

When the contact person finally returned my call and encouraged me to participate, I felt a wave of relief wash over me, and then I became inexplicably nervous.  Maybe I felt intimidated by all of the planning I had to do, maybe I was afraid I would get lost (which I did on the way home, sigh), or maybe the importance of this act finally sunk in for me.

I am constantly telling people how important early detection is for saving lives.  How hypocritical or rather apathetic of me not to take advantage of this opportunity to get myself checked out.  Yet the act of getting this screening done means so much more.  I participated in a national event that The Oral Cancer Foundation, The Head and Neck Cancer Alliance, and UCSF sponsored here in the SF Bay Area.  It’s not like there were lines out the door for people get their free screenings.  There were no booths nor any signs.  There was no indication that this service was even being offered.  It was an understated event.  I showed up at the office.  Told them I was there for the screening and the nurse handed me a short form to fill out and two pamphlets with information about Head and Neck Cancers.  While I waited for my turn I got the impression that if anyone else was participating in the event, they were probably members of the staff.

Feeling strangely deflated with this realization, I got my screening done (a quick feel around my neck and rooting around my mouth with a tongue depressor by one of the doctors), I got a quick lecture on what the warning signs are (since I have been getting mild ear aches with a bit of a sore throat on my left side off and on for the past couple of years, I need to watch out for persistent and increasing pain in addition to any growths), and I got out of the office.

I am fine.  There will be no cancer diagnosis for me today.  But maybe someone took the opportunity to get checked-out like I did and their doctor found something suspicious, and then they find an early stage cancerous growth that gets treated right away and that person’s life is saved from the ravages of these cancers?  What if nobody has to go through what Ry and so many others have had to suffer ever again?  It’s possible, even without a “cure.”

So get screened, even if you feel ok.  Look at your mouth when you are healthy so you know what that looks like for you and inspect your mouth, gums, cheeks, and throat every month.  Ask your dentist to do a more thorough screening during your next exam and tell you about it, even if they think it’s unnecessary.  Get into the habit of understanding your body and communicating with your healthcare professionals.

Take care

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